IHBC Yearbook 2023

16 YEARBOOK 2023 CHAIR’S REVIEW SOMETHING IN THE AIR? DAVID McDONALD, IHBC CHAIR OLDER READERS may know that Something in the Air was one of those iconic songs of the 1960s. It came out in 1969 by the now longforgotten band Thunderclap Newman. It captured the spirit of the age, post Flower Power. Today it suggests a more disturbing message with the title’s implications for climate change and net zero covered elsewhere in this yearbook. However, before I continue the environmental theme, I should reflect on two of the IHBC’s achievements in the past year. I was pleased to see the publication at the end of 2022 of a report on the Value of Heritage by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Conservation Places and People, for which the IHBC provides the secretariat. It has already been covered in Context No 174 which was accompanied by a copy of the full report. In brief, it had five recommendations: 1) a review of VAT to facilitate energy saving in listed buildings, 2) establishing a presumption against demolition, 3) introducing an energy efficiency amnesty for some of the most significant historic buildings, 4) continuing recent government funding for targeted investment for improvement of the historic environment, and 5) providing local authorities with greater control over levelling up and regeneration funding. I was particularly pleased to see the recommendation on VAT and the presumption against demolition. However, the recommendation to introduce an energy efficiency amnesty for ‘some of our most precious historic buildings’ is unlikely to receive such widespread support. While its overall aim might be laudable, it could be used as an easy excuse not to explore all options to improve energy efficiency. The other achievement on which I would like to reflect is the 2022 Annual School which was held in Aberdeen. It was certainly a venue whose location on the North Sea was more than appropriate for the school’s theme of Conservation on the Edge. Being the first hybrid school there were both challenges and opportunities. The local school committee took the opportunity of inviting an international cast of speakers from Norway in the north to South Georgia at the other end of the Atlantic. I had the privilege of chairing the Day School, which was on one hand an enjoyable interaction with the ‘live’ audience and the speakers, and on the other hand quite nerve wracking in trying to hold the whole event together in a smooth and seamless way. I’m sure all the attendees, whether in-person or online were impressed by the range and depth of the presentations. Having cut our teeth on the hybrid event in Aberdeen, we hope to build on the success in Swansea. Returning to my theme of something in the air, there does seem to be a mood in the heritage world for a more positive connection between the historic and natural environment. For many of us that has always been self-evident. Taking the village green as an obvious example, its special character can only be fully appreciated by assessing the architecture, spatial qualities and greenery together. It’s a clear example of where the quality of the place may be greater than the sum of its parts. Recent controversial and widely publicised tree removal by local councils in Plymouth and Sheffield show a public perception of the value of trees to the character of streets. On a more positive note, a recent press release from English Heritage, Chief Executive Kate Mavor wrote: “We’re creating more natural spaces at the heart of our historic properties, ensuring that wild flowers and wildlife flourish”. Local Greenspace Designation is becoming increasingly popular with local planning authorities. The criteria for designation include beauty and historic significance. Local Landscape Character Areas on the other hand, are more geologically and biologically defined, taking into account land use as well as visual and perceptual qualities. However, as the production of neighbourhood plans has shown, the perception of the value of open spaces and greenery is not confined to formally designated areas, and might include watercourses, agricultural land and green corridors for wildlife. While there is also scope for conflict between habitats and the historic environment, as illustrated by the difficulty of accommodating bats in church buildings, issues like these underline the importance of conservation professionals engaging with the natural environment sector. The issue of widespread tree removal provides both further proof of this need and the opportunity for greater co-operation, by calling into question the adequacy of existing controls such as tree preservation orders and conservation area designation. As we know, tree planting is an important part of climate change mitigation and we have common interests there. But there will be many other ways in which we might engage and influence which I will be considering over the next year. Truly, there is something in the air. David McDonald is the IHBC Chair (chair@ihbc.org.uk) and has been a member since its inception.